By LARRY VAUGHT
He was being touted as a potential All-American, maybe the Southeastern Conference Player of the year and even a possible NBA first-round draft pick.
Then Nick Richards got outplayed and knocked around a bit in Kentucky’s loss at Auburn Saturday. Any chance the UK junior had a bit of arrogance after going two years at UK when he was mainly criticized and now was being praised too much?
“No, I don’t think (so). Nick is not in a position to where he can come in this environment day after day –- after having success –- come here and feel good about anything,” Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne said Monday.
“The time for Nick to feel good is when he leaves this program and he’s a success story. Until that time, every single day that he’s here, we’re pushing him for greatness. You played great? Great. Next day. So, I don’t personally see arrogance. Again, I see a guy that was the aggressor and he wasn’t and it set the tone for the game.”
Problem is the way Auburn’s Austin Wiley bothered him is exactly what he will be facing Tuesday night against Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry, an even more talented overall player than Wiley and just as big and physical.
“He understood. He remembers. He knows. He understands why there are days when he’s done so well and everyone’s giving him credit and love and admiration for how far he came and he’s wanting that from us –- from Coach (John Calipari), from myself, from (Tony) Barbee, from Joel (Justus),” Payne said.
“Well, we can’t give him that. We can’t allow him to ever relax because we have a thin margin, very thin. We’re not an overpowered, most talented team in the SEC. We’re not the most talented team in the country. We have really good players and we got to play really well to win, and each guy, especially Nick, has to bring that part to the table.”
Richards was far from his best when UK lost to Utah and Ohio State in Las Vegas before Christmas. After that he was sensational until the Auburn game. Payne isn’t sure there is anything magical about what Richards did after Las Vegas to draw on now.
“I don’t think there’s a rhyme or reason to it. I just think it’s game to game, moment to moment, second to second. If Nick comes out with the mentality that, ‘I’m playing well tonight, I’m going to fight you, I’m going to rebound, I’m going to make strong moves around the basket, I’m going to post up hard, I’m going to move my feet on defense with my hands up, I’m going to contest and block shots,’ then he is going to play well,” Payne said.
“If he decides, ‘I don’t know, I don’t quite feel like I can move my feet or fight you in the post or I’m standing straight up,’ the other guy is going to win the battle. It’s really that simple.”
So does Richards need some positive reinforcement, a few pats on the back?
“This ain’t the place for that. Not with me. Not with Coach. Look, we love them, we cherish them, we hug them and kiss them. But at the end of the day, when you step on that wood, your job is to fight,” Payne said.
“What you did yesterday is history. What you did the game before is history. We forget about that. We go on to the next. It’s just what it is. That’s why we’ve had so many guys that have had success in this game because we don’t lay on our successes. We move on to the next (game).”